Free speech advocates and European officials have balked at the new moves. European Union Commissioner Frans Timmermans expressed concern that they were backward step in Eastern Europe's advance toward democracy. In response, Polish authorities have fired back, angrily dismissing the criticism and complaining that European officials are meddling in their affairs.
These events could have major implications for both Poland and the E.U., with Poland's very membership in the project coming under question. But some are already questioning whether the new media laws will effect Poland's membership in another institution just as dear to Europeans' hearts: the Eurovision Song Contest.
For the uninitiated, the Eurovision Song Contest is an annual competition featuring top (mostly) European singers and songwriters, with different countries submitting acts and then casting votes for their other favorites. Since its inception in 1956, it has become well-known for its campy, over-the-top atmosphere – and sometimes for the geopolitical rivalries that frequently end up being reflected in the competition.
The contest is run by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), an alliance of various public service media groups in Europe and farther afield. This is where Poland, a Eurovision contestant since 1994, may run into trouble for its meddling with public service broadcasters: The EBU has already issued a letter critical of the Polish government's plans.
"To preserve the integrity and independence of public service media as a symbol of a free and democratic country, we ask you in the strongest possible terms not to sign this measure into law," Ingrid Deltenre, EBU director general, wrote in a letter to Polish President Andrzej Duda in December.
Among Eurovision-watchers, there's a strong suspicion that these things will hurt Poland's chances at the song contest, which is due to take place in May, and may even result in its entry being thrown out. Oiko Times, one Eurovision-focused publication, suggests that the EBU may well force Poland out of the competition if it carries through with its plans. Even if it does get through, Oiko Times says, it may well find itself on the receiving end of tactical voting from those angered by its changes to Poland's public service media.
Another publication, ESC Daily, writes that the situation may face another complication: Under its new laws, the Polish government has appointed Jacek Kurski as the new president of public broadcaster TVP. As ESC Daily notes, it is suspected that Kurski may play a direct role in the selection of Poland's Eurovision candidate, which is being decided upon internally. Kurski had already raised some eyebrows in the Eurovision world when he dubbed the 2014 victory of Austrian drag queen Conchita Wurst an act of "cultural aggression from the West" – a sign that he's perhaps not the best fit for a contest known for open-mindedness and pomp.
The Eurovision Song Contest may not have anything like the the same wide-reaching effects on daily life as the E.U., but in some ways its expansive view of European unity isn't too dissimilar. Some academics who have studied the contest have called it "a stage on which the realities of the new Europe are being played out."
So far, Poland's success rates in the competition have been pretty dismal; it has only twice placed in the top 10, and last year its song placed 23rd out of 27. Any performance in 2016's event – or lack thereof – may be worth watching closely.
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